White House announces big plans to tackle affordable housing crisis

Washington DC – The White House on Wednesday detailed several measures intended to improve housing affordability amid an ongoing crisis that has only worsened during the coronavirus pandemic.

Affordable housing advocates join in protest in Columbus, Ohio, in June 2021.
Affordable housing advocates join in protest in Columbus, Ohio, in June 2021.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

The White House Council of Economic Advisers explained in a blog post that housing prices have jumped up over the past year, but added these trends were already existent prior to the pandemic.

Experts say Americans should not spend more than 30% of their income on housing, but almost half of all renters already do, with one in four spending over 50% of their income on rent, the authors wrote.

They added that there is currently a housing shortage of about 3.8 million homes, up from 2.5 million in 2018. Entry-level options for potential homeowners are just a small fraction of new constructions, making it harder for families to start building housing wealth.

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Public housing options are also on the decline, as units have decreased by over 200,000 since the 1990s as a result of underfunding and inadequate upkeep.

Due to these conditions, many families and individuals are blocked from accumulating wealth as they are forced to live in less economically productive areas, which also limits US economic growth nationally, researchers say.

Like so many other issues, these problems disproportionately impact people of color.

In fact, the authors wrote that the housing affordability crisis could account for up to 30% of the racial wealth gap between Black and white Americans.

White House proposes measures to mitigate the crisis

The housing affordability crisis disproportionately impacts people of color, accounting for up to 30% of the Black-white racial wealth gap.
The housing affordability crisis disproportionately impacts people of color, accounting for up to 30% of the Black-white racial wealth gap.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

The Biden administration's economic team has proposed several measures to address these challenges.

Firstly, the White House says it plans to add 100,000 more affordable housing units over three years through a variety of administrative steps. These include increasing mortgage availability for multi-unit homes and making it easier for NGOs or potential homeowners – rather than private investors – to buy properties that don't sell in foreclosure auctions. Expanding tax, loan, and grant options for financing apartments, are also among the proposed strategies.

Introducing legislation for building and renovating an estimated 2 million homes could be on the cards too. This means providing federal subsidies for constructing and renovating affordable housing options, tax credits to low-income housing builders, and incentives to do away with harmful local zoning laws.

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But the authors concluded with a word of caution: "There is no magic formula to quickly relieve the supply constraints," they wrote, explaining that many of today's problems have been developing over decades and will require significant time and resources to fix.

Still, they said their proposals constitute "a once-in-a-generation effort to improve the lives of millions of Americans by making housing more plentiful and affordable."

Cover photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

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